Marina Tabassum Wins Soane Medal

John Hill
16. November 2021
Marina Tabassum at the Sir John Soane's Museum. (Photo: Barry MacDonald)

The Sir John Soane's Museum in London has announced that the recipient of the fourth annual Soane Medal is Marina Tabassum, Bangladeshi architecture and pioneer of "‘the architecture of relevance."

In past years, such as when Kenneth Frampton was given the 2019 Soane Medal, the laureate gave the Soane Medal lecture at a later date, but given the coronavirus pandemic the latest Soane Medal was given to Marina Tabassum today, November 16, 2021, at the same time that she gave the Soane Medal Lecture before an invited audience at the museum and to a global audience through a live digital event.

Established by Sir John Soane’s Museum in 2017, the Soane Medal "recognizes architects, educators and critics who have made a major contribution to their field through practice, history or theory." Before Tabassum and Frampton, the Soane Medal was given to Spanish architect Rafael Moneo in 2017 and American architect, planner and theorist Denise Scott Brown in 2018.

Bait ur Rouf Mosque, Faidabad, Uttara, Dhaka. (Photo: Sandro Di Carlo Darsa)

Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tabassum is founder of Marina Tabassum Architects MTA, which is also based in Dhaka. Describing her practice's work as "the architecture of relevance," notable buildings from MTA include the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, which won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2016, and the Independence Monument of Bangladesh. Tabassum's studio contributed to the Freespace exhibition at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, with "Wisdom of the Land," an exploration of Bengali courtyards.

Independence Monument and Liberation War Museum, Suhrawardi Uddyan, Dhaka.(Photo: Maruf Raihan)

According to the Soane Museum, Tabassum "is currently working in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, in southeast Bangladesh, and designing mobile modular houses for ultra-low-income people in the country’s coastal areas." These projects were singled out by Soane Museum director Bruce Boucher, who said in a statement that Tabassum "consistently demonstrates the ways in which architecture can improve lives and her work with Rohingya Refugees at Cox’s Bazaar showcases the potential of architects to contribute to solving the problems society faces today." All told, "her work is underpinned by a focus on sustainability and Tabassum is truly leading the conversation about the ways in which architecture, people and planet interact."

Khudi Bari. Modular mobile house for the Climate Victims of Bangladesh, Hands-on-built project, 2020. (Photo: Asif Salman)

Marina Tabassum said in a statement from the museum: "Winning the Soane Medal means a great deal to me. My current work is focused on the twin crises of Bangladesh: the plight of refugees, and the heightened threat to our population of flooding, exacerbated by global warming. Both factors have led me to focus on prototyping low impact, mobile housing which can be delivered at the lowest cost possible for those in need. Our goal is to make it an open source knowledge that can help people build their own houses, with the help of a manual with detailed instructions."

Resilient Landscape, Rohingya Refugee Camps, Ukhiya (Photo: F. M. Faruque Abdullah Shawon)
The 2021 Soane Medal jury:

  • Bruce Boucher, Deborah Loeb Brice Director, Sir John Soane's Museum
  • David Chipperfield, architect
  • Paul Goldberger, architecture critic
  • Owen Hopkins, architecture writer and curator
  • Farshid Moussavi, architect
  • Eric Parry, architect
  • Alice Rawsthorn, design critic and author
  • Oliver Wainwright, architecture critic
  • Thomas Weaver, architectural historian

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